In this blog post, Katie Zimmerman, founder of Purl, explores a topic that’s often misunderstood: the boundaries and limitations inherent in being a prospective adoptive parent. It’s crucial to understand and respect that the expectant mother holds the autonomy to decide what medical information to share and your level of involvement during her pregnancy. Knowing the difference between what you can ‘expect’ and what you’re ‘entitled to’ in an adoption proceeding is vital for anyone considering the path of adoption. Read on for a comprehensive guide on how to navigate this sensitive and intricate journey.
Navigating the complexities of adoption can be an emotional and often challenging journey for prospective adoptive parents. I’m writing this article as a follow-up to our last blog post about how adoption is NOT surrogacy. Today I aim to shed light on some of the critical ethical and practical considerations involved in the adoption process, especially as they pertain to interactions with expectant and birth mothers. From medical records to living expenses and even the personal histories of the birth mothers, the journey is fraught with nuances that every prospective adoptive parent should be prepared to understand and respect. If you find that honoring and respecting these boundaries is uncomfortable for you, you may want to reconsider if domestic infant adoption is right for you.
The Complexities of Medical Records and Prenatal Care
We have a sordid history of adoption in our society, and many women have been forced into adoption due to duress or other pressures. Generally, in today’s society, the choice to take this step and make an adoption plan is up to the expectant mother. While an agency or expectant mother may share some medical records or require prenatal doctor visits as part of their adoption program, prospective adoptive parents have no right to mandate or expect these actions. In fact, we often see very little prenatal care in adoption opportunities, and that is likely due to the crisis women considering adoption are facing. Even if the expectant mother is receiving prenatal care, they get to choose whether to share access to their medical information, and the agency handling the adoption, through their policies and procedures, gets to decide what in those records the prospective adoptive parents see. Prospective adoptive parents may only receive limited redacted medical records to preserve the privacy of the expectant parent yet still share pertinent medical information for the child. As a prospective adoptive parent, understand that gaining access to multiple sets of medical records is unlikely. If any are received, consider it a privilege rather than an expectation. Be prepared for this reality throughout the adoption process.
What Prospective Adoptive Parents Can’t Control
In adoption, prospective adoptive parents also have no right to prescribe how expectant mothers are to act during their pregnancy just because they have paid living expenses. It is not the place of prospective adoptive parents to judge what the expectant mother or birth mother did during pregnancy – whether they take prenatal vitamins, eat soft cheese or deli meat, or whether they consume substances harmful to a developing fetus. Prospective adoptive parents have no right to an expectant mother’s medical history, their criminal history, or any other thing that is personal and sensitive to that expectant mother or birth mother’s life. If prospective adoptive parents choose to present to her after learning about her situation (including circumstances like drug use, housing instability, history with child protective services, and criminal history), they are accepting those circumstances as those they will accept in her child’s birth mother. To learn more about in utero drug exposure read our post here. Adopting her child does not grant free reign to her life and the choices she made, good or bad. Even if things she did during her pregnancy impacted her child – and the child that prospective adoptive parents now parent – that doesn’t entitle them to information about her that she didn’t provide or consent to give.
Even After the Adoption, You’re Not Entitled To A Lot of the Legal Documents
Even once placement has taken place, adoptive parents will not be entitled to many of the legal documents that are used in an adoption proceeding. In an agency placement (more on those distinctions here), the birth mother will have signed consents to the agency to take custody of the child, and then the agency will grant the prospective adoptive parents temporary custody while they prospective adoptive parents satisfy any postplacement requirements. That must be done before the agency formally consents to them as the adoptive parents. Although this is completely based on state law, typically after placement there is a termination of the birth parent’s rights, and then a petition for the adoptive parents to adopt the child is filed with the court. Even in a private or independent adoption (where a birth mother consents directly to the adoptive parents), adoptive parents typically do not receive copies of the consents that are signed by the birth mother, or any documents relating to the termination of the birth parent’s rights. They don’t typically receive copies of publication notices or other legal notices used to inform potential birth fathers of the adoption plan. Instead, adoptive parents typically have very little legal documentation when placement is made. Before finalization, they typically have a power of attorney or other document showing temporary custody of the child. I recall walking around with one sheet of paper that I used at doctor’s offices and arranging medical insurance after taking placement of my daughter. It can feel very disconcerting to not have more legal documents to evidence your important role in this child’s life, but again, you are not entitled to other documents, typically until an adoption is finalized. You will review and receive copies of the Petition for Adoption filed on your behalf and some other documents filed with the court, but you will need to trust that the adoption professionals you’ve hired are working for you and in your best interest, even if you can’t see every document filed in a confidential legal proceeding. That’s why it is so important to hire experienced adoption professionals you can trust. As we discuss further here, you may never get a copy of the original birth certificate, and instead, you’ll get new birth certificates and social security cards issued after the adoption is finalized.
Facing the Hard Truths
I know much of this may be hard to hear, and something I struggled with as a new adoptive parent. I understand the desire to have all the information a child may need or want in their lives. But this is the reality of adoption and the current adoption process and something prospective adoptive parents need to understand if they take this path. But if a prospective adoptive parent isn’t comfortable with what they learn at any point about the expectant mother’s actions during an adoption plan, they are not entitled to her child! The options are to disrupt that plan and move forward with another family-building method or to another adoption situation. Remember, adoption doesn’t mean the child will have a better life with prospective adoptive parents – it just means a different life. Read our blog post about “different” not “better”.
Emotional Considerations and Family Dynamics
As a parent, one might harbor emotions regarding the choices their child’s birth mother made, both during and possibly even after her pregnancy. I hear and can empathize with those feelings, and we have shared an anonymous adoptive parent’s perspective on that here. Know that the birth mother is likely grappling with her own trauma, as well as a sense of guilt or regret over her actions as well. No matter what, it is essential to have care and empathy for a child’s birth family and to speak about them positively. Read more about empathizing with expectant mom’s situations in our blog post here. Prospective adoptive parents have not been in their shoes; they haven’t experienced the trauma or other experiences that led them to the position of making an adoption plan for their child. Accepting her child means accepting her for who she is and her life choices. They need to protect the child’s story for them to understand and communicate when and how they want to later in their life. If prospective adoptive parents don’t feel they can do this, then adoption is not the right path for them.
Evaluating Your Options and Emotional Preparedness
No matter what, whatever control prospective adoptive parents would have had won’t be available in adoption. Maybe adoption isn’t the right choice for you; we truly believe not everyone is meant to adopt. Perhaps embryo adoption is a better route. But no matter how one chooses to grow their family, they will love their child. I hope that, if they choose adoption, they will love and honor their child’s birth family, if only because they created your child!
At Purl Adoption Advisory, we’re here to offer expert guidance to help you better understand, plan, and successfully navigate your adoption journey. Reach out to us for support every step of the way.